The Opposite of Success by Eleanor Elliott Thomas is an intensely relatable debut, filled with moments of comedy and charm. Though relatability is by no means a prerequisite of an enjoyable, well-crafted novel, in this case the humour and wit are enhanced by the likelihood that readers will see themselves in Lorrie and/or her best friend, Alex.
The novel follows Lorrie and Alex through a single, momentous day, culminating in the launch of Lorrie’s major work project. The day doesn’t go as planned and Lorrie’s increasingly reckless decisions make for some moments of laugh out loud hilarity and others that elicit a cringe of second-hand embarrassment.
One of the most notable elements of The Opposite of Success is that it has a fat main character. Lorrie’s appearance enters the novel through a comment from one of her children, who tells her, ‘your bottom is sagging, your tummy is sagging, your bosoms are sagging’. Lorrie is conscious of the space her body inhabits in the world, as well as how her relationship with it can shape the way her daughters perceive their own bodies. When she tells her daughter, Ruthie, ‘it’s OK that I’m saggy, it doesn’t make me a bad person,’ she’s consciously challenging both societal views and those of her mother and her younger self. She’s consciously doing for her daughters what her own mother never could.
Lorrie’s habit is to wear clothes that are ‘an apology for her body … to shield the eyes of her fellow citizens from the reality of her roly-poly form’. In a triumphant scene reminiscent of Claire Christian’s It’s Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake, Lorrie finds an outfit that ‘fit her flawlessly’ prompting her to think, ‘the woman in the mirror looked good’. It is a profound moment of self-acceptance and self-love.
The events of the novel prompt Lorrie and Alex to contemplate their respective understanding of success and purpose. Lorrie finds fulfilment in her role as a mother and contentment in her predictable job and long, stable marriage. Her choices are anathema to Alex, who jumps from fling to fling, struggles to focus on her documentary project and cannot fathom bringing a child into a world besieged by the climate crisis.
Alex’s and Lorries’s arcs appear to demonstrate that there’s no one way to make a good, meaningful life in the mess of our modern world and that failure – like beauty – is in the eye of the beholder.
The Opposite of Success by Eleanor Elliott Thomas
Publisher: Text Publishing
Paperback: 272 pages
Published: October 2023